Groundhog Day in Pyongyang

Now that we’ve asked North Korea to tell us about its nuclear programs, and now that North Korea has answered by telling us to perform prostate exams on ourselves, I suppose it’s best if we at least pretend to do otherwise. Not that the pretense is a convincing one. When Chris Hill tells us to react “with patience and perseverance,”  understand that translating this into the North Korean dialect yields something that also means, “How about never? Is never good for you? Me too. I’ll cable Washington.

Today, Hill is finishing a series of talks with other diplomats in Seoul and Beijing. The Chosun Ilbo has an interesting summary of Hill’s meetings with the various players in Korean politics, including Park Geun Hye and Park Jin, and of course, Lee Myung Bak. I have the transcripts of what he told the press appended to the bottom of this post. Really. The same inside, deep-cover source who provided those transcripts (thanks, by the way) also tells me that Hill packed two full pounds  of this stuff for all of the rug burns he must be accumulating on that  vast, shiny forehead of his.

The most productive thing I know to have emerged from this is just what we’re going to do about North Korea missing that last  deadline. The answer, for now, is “nothing,”  aside from  setting a new deadline, which will do nothing but nullify the old one.  The new deadline is February 25th.  That morning, if Kim Jong Il  sees  his porcine  belly  while taking  his morning pee,  it will  mean six more weeks  until the next six-week extension.  If you can think of a reason why this new deadline will  work any better than  the last one, by the way, help us out with that.  North Korea has been persistent about  its disinterest in disclosing anything for months now (and still is).   Here’s a teaser from the Hill transcripts below:

QUESTION: What is your sense about what is holding back North Korea from offering this declaration? Is it specific elements in dispute, or is it distrust about the wider political environment?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. I think you have to ask them. But some of the elements ““ and, again, I don’t want to get into specifically identifying what they are, because if I identify certain elements as stumbling blocks then we will surely make them stumbling blocks — I think part of it is that the DPRK does not want to acknowledge certain activities, because to do so involves for them a change of how they have handled those activities in the past. So I think there is concern on their part that to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.

One significant thing will happen on February 25th, of course:   as of that day,  President Roh Moo Hyun’s replacement will be sworn in and South Korea will have an actual functioning government (if I sold “02.25.08” stickers, who would buy one?).   Non-anarchists  will appreciate that, and the relative absence of enemy sleeper agents in the upper ranks of a nominally  allied government always makes nuclear diplomacy easier.  Yet I see zero evidence that our State Department has any more idea of how to  benefit from  this than  Richard Simmons might from a Moonlight Bunny Ranch season pass.

Another line of speculation I’ll advance is  a report from  the Hanky that  China has  just cut off North Korea’s supply of food aid, supposedly because food prices in China have skyrocketed. That wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard reports like this that turned out to be overstated. It’s occasionally in China’s interests to seem cooperative, but not always.  If the report is true, however, take it in the context of this year’s food situation in the North, which is bad — probably bad enough to affect those few North Koreans who actually matter to Kim Jong Il, along with plenty of others who don’t.

The most significant fact here is that unlike Chris Hill, President Bush doesn’t have five more weeks to waste, except of course for the fact that that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.  The most sobering fact here is that everyone with any leverage over Kim Jong Il has an incentive to stall.  Still, this isn’t leading  toward the sort of legacy Bush or Rice will want  their grandkids to read  about.  I once saw a wad of rubber bands pass through my dog more smoothly, and with a more favorable outcome, than anything I’ve ever seen Chris  Hill do.

Anyway, on to  Hill’s comments.  Hill makes the point that it’s more important that the declaration be complete than timely, when he assuredly knows that he’ll have to settle for neither of those things unless he  puts Kim Jong Il’s  head  in a vice.   Read it in full below the fold.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill

Incheon Airport Press Conference

Republic of Korea

January 10, 2008

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Thank you. I usually don’t get introduced. Well, thank you very much. We just finished this stop in Seoul and are heading on our way to Beijing. I’ll be seeing my Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei this afternoon, and I think we are going to have dinner tonight. And then tomorrow we’ll go on to Moscow and see Ambassador Losyukov. While I was here in Seoul I had, I thought, very good discussions, especially on the Six Party process but also more broadly on the U.S.-ROK relations in light of the transition that is under way here in Seoul. I had some very good discussions with the Foreign Ministry, and also I had the honor of having a courtesy call on President Roh Moo-hyun. And then this morning I met with President-elect Lee Myung-bak. And while meeting with President-elect Lee Myung-bak, I informed him of the fact that President Bush looks forward to welcoming him at an early date to Washington, and we will be working very hard to come up with such a date. So, of course, with respect to the Six-Party process, we had some discussion about the fact that we are interested in getting through this second phase.

Obviously, we’ve had a bit of a bump in the road over the declaration, but I think everyone agrees that we need a declaration that’s complete and correct, and that that’s more important in fact than a timely declaration, and that we will continue to work to try to get a declaration as soon as possible so that we can move on to the next phase. And I look forward to discussing all those issues tonight with Wu Dawei. So those are sort of opening comments. And maybe I could go to some questions, and then I think I’ve got to scoot on out of here.

QUESTION: Could you elaborate some of the following concerns that you and Lee Myung-bak shared on just the current status of the Six-Party process?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think this was a courtesy call on the President-elect. So I took the occasion to brief him a little on where we stand with the process. And I told him what we’ve been trying to achieve in this phase two, namely two things. One, of course, the disabling of the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, which is a process that’s been going pretty well, and the second of course is achieving a declaration that is complete and correct and enables us to take our own set of actions and to then move to phase three. So I went through a briefing that I think you would find very familiar in terms of discussing where we stand on the Six-Party process — emphasizing that in order to make what we’ve done successful, we need to finish the job. We need to continue in this third phase and make sure that we can achieve the complete abandonment of all the nuclear materials that the DPRK has already produced so that we can complete the job of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. So I think we had a very good discussion about the need to work together to achieve this end.

QUESTION: Do you hope the declaration will be finished by the time that we (inaudible) the new government?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, in fact, I said to him that I think it would be very desirable if we could complete the phase two even before his government comes in, so that by the time his government does come in, in the end of February, we will be focusing on that last phase. And I think at that point, it’s important for all participants in the Six-Party process to work very closely together as we have up until now to see if we can really finish this job. I think there is no reason why we cannot finish the job in ’08. I think we all know what needs to be done. So we will see how we do.

I wanted to emphasize, too, that throughout the Six-Party process we have had these bumps in the road, we have had these missed deadlines, but that, ultimately, we have been able to make progress. Certainly 2007 was a year of progress, and we would like to see if we can do that and achieve further progress in 2008. Not to get too discouraged about some of the problems we face, but certainly to understand that we have a number of challenges to overcome.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with Lee Myung-bak’s administration, do you foresee any changes or impact that might influence the situation of the talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think the ROK has been a very strong participant in the Six-Party process. I have certainly valued the work of the ROK diplomats. I consider them very, very exceptional diplomats. So I’m sure that engagement of the ROK in the Six-Party process will continue as it has been. I’m not really in a position to be judging ROK policies overall. Obviously the new president will be working with his advisors and determining the scale, the scope, the pace of their own North-South approaches. But that is for them to determine. That is not for me to determine.

But certainly it is very clear that this new president will understand the importance of all these issues and will be working very, very closely, first of all, with his advisors, but then with his friends and allies to try to work through this. We have, I think, an interest in resolving this nuclear matter that is very much synonymous with the interests of the ROK. We look forward to continuing this very, very close and productive relationship.

QUESTION: In terms of Korea-U.S. relations, do you see any difference between the current administration of South Korea and the next government?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, you know a lot of the people in the next government who are now in the transition are people I know very well from my time when I was here in 2004. I met with them on many occasions in Washington. And so these are some very familiar faces. I am a very strong believer in the ROK-U.S. alliance, and I have every reason to believe it is going to continue and in very strong shape. I am not really in a position to compare and contrast the next government with the current government. I think I’ll leave that for the Korean people to do. But I know that the U.S., we stand ready to work very closely with this incoming government and to see if we can achieve our goals together.

QUESTION: Sir, what do believe is holding up North Korea from implementing through the second phase?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think the declaration has been a little difficult for them because it involves a degree of transparency that perhaps doesn’t come naturally to them. To be sure, I think they realize, as we realize, that the disabling of the facilities has gone very well. I think for them that actually disclosing all of their programs, all of their nuclear material, all of their facilities has been difficult for them to do. Even, in some cases — It is interesting, in our discussions with them, some facilities, for example, that we are aware of, that they are aware of, and that they are aware that we are aware, yet they didn’t want to disclose those. So I really think it has to do with transparency.

What I’ve tried to do with the DPRK is to emphasize the fact that as we go forward, as we are going to go forward here, we need to have an understanding of how we go forward. We can go forward with full transparency. We can’t have a situation where we pretend programs didn’t exist when we both know that they existed. We can’t have a process that goes forward on the basis of not being honest with each other. So it’s a tougher issue than maybe it should be. I mean tougher from a psychological point of view. I think that’s why we have to show a little patience with the situation and try to get through it. I can handle one more question.

QUESTION: What are the chances for next (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I need to talk to the Chinese on that. I mean, obviously, we are always in favor of Six-Party meetings. If the Chinese want to call one, I’m sure we will be interested in attending one. Obviously, we would like any Six-Party meeting to be one that advances the process. And so the thing that we’re dealing with right now, of course, is the declaration. So we’d have to see how a Six-Party meeting can address the declaration issue that we are facing.

But, you know, as I’ve tried to emphasize to the North Koreans, if we get through this declaration, we will do what we’re supposed to do. We will continue. We have some bilateral considerations that we are prepared to move on. So I hope that the DPRK will understand the value of moving ahead, because things are lined up. If they want us to achieve the breakthrough in ’08, we can do it. We can definitely do it.

OK. Great to see you all, and for those of you coming to China, I’ll see you there.

==========================================

Remarks by Christopher R. Hill

Asst. Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Evening walk-through

Kerry Center Hotel, Beijing, China

January 10, 2007

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I just had a good discussion with Wu Dawei to discuss the way forward on the Six-Party process. We focused, of course, on the need to complete the phase two actions and, in particular, try to complete the declaration. So we kicked around some ideas on how we might do that and agreed that we will be in close contact as we see what we can do in the next week or two. I think the Chinese made the point that we’re not maybe as far apart as people might think. There are obviously a couple of issues that are important that we need to get resolved. But we’ve also made a lot of progress on the declaration itself. We also compared notes on our trips to Yongbyon and his own observations of the degree that the disabling has gone forward. So it was a good discussion. We’ll have to see what we can do in the next days and weeks to try to complete this declaration this year.

QUESTION: Have you and Wu Dawei come up with some idea of the timing for holding the next heads of delegation meeting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I asked whether he had some idea about specific timing. He did not. I think he is very focused, as I am, on how to complete the phase two actions. I think he’s more concerned about that than about scheduling a Six-Party meeting. My sense is he was not ready to schedule something, and I think he is more focused on trying to get through these last issues.

QUESTION: Will we see the next heads of delegation meeting after we see the declaration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I don’t know. I think we’re going to try to make some more progress on the declaration. We might make some progress on it at a Six-Party head of delegation meeting. The issue is for the North Koreans to come forward with a declaration that is complete and correct, and they have not forwarded that to the Chinese at this point. Again, we had a really good discussion of what the elements of that are, and I think we’re in sync as to what needs to be done. So we’ll see. He’s in touch with all the parties including the North Koreans.

QUESTION: Was there any sense that he was trying to maybe persuade the U.S. to kind of back down on its demands?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. He wasn’t trying to persuade us about anything. You should ask him, but my sense is he was fairly optimistic that the overall process is moving forward and that once we get into phase three, we can also make some serious progress. So he was, as I am, very interested in getting through phase two.

QUESTION: What is your sense about what is holding back North Korea from offering this declaration? Is it specific elements in dispute, or is it distrust about the wider political environment?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. I think you have to ask them. But some of the elements ““ and, again, I don’t want to get into specifically identifying what they are, because if I identify certain elements as stumbling blocks then we will surely make them stumbling blocks — I think part of it is that the DPRK does not want to acknowledge certain activities, because to do so involves for them a change of how they have handled those activities in the past. So I think there is concern on their part that to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.

Our point is that a declaration is a declaration, and we can’t be sweeping problems under the rug or pretending that issues don’t exist. The point of it is to be complete and correct. I have told the North Koreans on many occasions that we are not interested in picking out some element in the declaration and start asking a thousand more questions. What we need to know is what the scope of their nuclear programs is. And we want to get to the point where when all these nuclear programs are abandoned, we don’t find out there are some additional programs that were not addressed because they were excluded in the declaration. So we need to be very clear on what they have been up to.

QUESTION: Does that include uranium enrichment?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Again, I don’t want to get into specific elements. You can certainly guess which elements there are problems with in terms of how they make the declaration, but I’ll let you guess on that. I don’t want to identify them myself.

QUESTION: Is there any draft of the declaration or —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. They have not given us a declaration. We had some discussions when we were in Pyongyang. But we don’t have a declaration, and there is no sign that they have given one to the Chinese. In fact, when they do have a declaration, it is appropriate to give it to the Chinese — not to us.

QUESTION: So if they haven’t given you anything written down, how do you know the declaration —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: We had a discussion of what all the elements are in three main categories of materials, facilities, and programs. And while we were in ““Actually, this really started last August in Shenyang with the denuclearization working group. We discussed what would be in all those three categories, and there were some glaring omissions which we raised and which we discussed again. But it was pretty clear in those discussions that there were going to be some real omissions. Another way we could have done it is to invite them to submit an incorrect and incomplete declaration and then start haggling over that. But instead we chose to continue the discussion with the idea that when they do produce a declaration, it ought to be pretty close to being final.

QUESTION: The exchange of letters between President Bush and Kim Jong Il had any impact? And secondly, the Chinese sent a delegation to Pyongyang recently. Who was in it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Wu Dawei was part of that.

QUESTION: And what happened? What was the outcome?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Nothing that I could tell. I think Wu went down to Yongbyon as I did, and he talked to some of the technical people there. He talked to the Americans there who are doing some of the disabling activities and felt, as I did, that we’ve made a lot of progress on disabling. You know, it is important to keep that in mind as we face this problem of a declaration — that with respect to disabling, we’ve gotten a lot done and stuff that has never been done before. I think we can all derive some optimism from that. But in this business we have to insist on completing all the tasks, and we’re simply not there yet on the declaration.

Okay? Oh.

QUESTION: Did the Chinese share your view that North Korea hasn’t submitted its declaration [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: They are not suggesting that they’ve submitted a declaration, because there is no declaration.

QUESTION: Do they feel that they need to do that quickly? Did you talk about that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think they’d like it done as soon as possible, because I think the Chinese, based on discussions tonight, have some hopes that we can really get through phase three — that is, the complete denuclearization — even do it in this calendar year. So I think they would like to move ahead.

Okay?

QUESTION: What plans do you have tomorrow?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think I have one meeting in the morning. You’ll have to check with the Embassy. I have a meeting in the morning. And then I think I hop on a flight and go just eight hours to Moscow, and meet with my counterpart there, and then get back to Washington in time to see the New England Patriots play.

Okay? See you later.

2 Comments

  1. I once saw a wad of rubber bands pass through my dog more smoothly,

    Where did you learn to craft phrases like this? In college?

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